Evernote turns eight years old this week. But even after all these years, some people have trouble grasping what, exactly, this mystical app is supposed to do. Is it for taking notes? Saving bookmarks? Taking photos? All of the above?
Everyone’s needs are different. But for me, Evernote really shines as a vast, searchable archive that allows you to comb the full-text of every web page, document, photo or note you’ve saved, and find what you need in seconds.
Here’s how it works. When you type some words in Evernote’s search box, you’re not just searching the titles of your files. You’re not just searching the tags of your photos. You’re searching the entire contents of everything you saved in Evernote. This even applies to anything you take a picture of that has words, such as business cards, thanks to Evernote’s sweet optical character recognition capability.
For people like journalists who work on deadline, this can be incredibly useful for quickly finding a needle in a haystack.
Evernote isn’t perfect — its desktop app can get sluggish and I get frustrated with it sometimes. But I realized how powerful this tool could be when I worked on a story about the family history of Johnny Manziel several years ago. I used Evernote to save every article, court record and web page I came across during the course of my reporting. Then, when I was writing the story and had to look up something, I could use Evernote to instantly search the entire text of those files.
An example: I came across several old news stories about the friendship between Manziel’s great-grandfather, a wildcatter and boxer named Bobby Joe Manziel, and heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey.
Manziel retired from boxing and moved to East Texas in the 1930s to try his luck in the oil fields as a wildcatter. Almost broke, Manziel asked Dempsey for some money to drill for oil in Gladewater.
The well was a gusher. Dempsey later said that gamble was the smartest investment he ever made.
But there were discrepancies in the stories I found about how much Dempsey invested. Some said $400. Others said $700. Well, which was it?
Enter Evernote. I searched for “Dempsey” and the varying dollar amounts in my Evernote files and all the relevant articles popped up. It didn’t take long to determine that the older, more contemporaneous stories claimed Dempsey invested $400. One article quoted Dempsey directly. Problem solved.
Related: A running list of must-have Android apps for journalists in 2017
Now imagine life without Evernote. I would have had to reread a pile of photocopied articles looking for any mention of that investment.
Is it possible? Sure.
Was Evernote a useful tool that totally sped up the process?
I wouldn’t upload sensitive files to a cloud-based app like Evernote. But for the vast majority of information you rely upon in your day-to-day life, Evernote can transform those records into a vast archive that’s instantly searchable — and instantly more useful.